Sunday, October 25, 2020

Do you own your own face?

The question of whether you own your own face may not be as clear as you might think. Companies are already buying and selling information worldwide based on facial recognition technology. In January of this year I proposed that the United States adopt a constitutional amendment which would give each person ownership of his or her information including facial likenesses and any other biometric data. Now, some U.S. senators think that those gathering your likeness into their databases should have your permission first to do so.

Those senators are not alone. In September Portland, Oregon passed a sweeping ban on facial recognition technology for both government and businesses. San Francisco, Boston and Oakland have passed bans as well, but only for governmental agencies.

Those supporting such bans have cited racial and gender biases built into the algorithms controlling the technology as a central reason for the ban. Beyond this, a California legislator who led the fight to ban such technology for use in conjunction with police body cameras—including passing recordings through facial recognition software later—found out something even more disturbing. The technology which depends on a variety of algorithms is woefully inaccurate. The legislator and 25 of his colleagues were misidentified as persons listed in a law enforcement database as having criminal records.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Risky business: Cellphone satellite networks endanger asteroid early warning, threaten catastrophic space junk

During the coming decade companies that include Amazon, SpaceX and OneWeb are seeking to launch well over 100,000 satellites to service wireless networks on Earth. Many more satellites may follow after that.

Astronomers are crying foul because the satellites—which have proven to be much more reflective than anticipated—are making it difficult for observatories to survey the night sky. The satellites show up as multiple streaky white lines in long-exposure photography so essential to detecting new objects in the distant reaches of the universe.

Thus have the wonders of wireless communications blinded us to the risks of filling the sky with so many satellites. Were that the extent of the problem, it would be irksome to the world astronomy community but probably not a major concern to the rest of us. Unfortunately, much bigger risks await us as the number of satellites in orbit around planet Earth reaches, well, astronomical proportions.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Scavenger or thief: The line will continue to blur

The role of scavenger in nature is to find that which others have discarded or which no longer has life. Vultures are the best-known example of a species that lives off the dead carcasses of other animals. Many insects act as scavengers as well.

Human scavengers go by many names: junk removal—the junk man often reclaims things of value even as we pay him to take them away—recycling companies, and finally, those who out of economic necessity rummage through trash cans and pick out containers redeemable for a deposit that others leave behind.

In the human world, the more desperate the times, the more scavenging people are likely to do and the less stuff there will be to go around. That's when scavenging may cross the line into theft.